Day 228: Journalism died and nobody cared

Day 228: Journalism died and nobody cared

Thursday, August 16, 2018

“It’s not okay to know something, it’s not okay to try to remain wilfully ignorant. It’s not okay to learn the evidence and then insist on ignoring it because it doesn’t fit with your opinion,” implores the Fairfax op-ed.

“Journalism is, should be, a discipline of verification.” Ahh, so that’s what this is about.

It continues, “Instead we see a discipline of aggregation and assertion: competing claims presented but not checked; opinions repeated unfiltered as if all were equal, without any attempt to gather facts.”

I saw this rant a few days ago. I imagined the author is probably in his mid-twenties, out of journalism school for long enough to know how to fight the good fight as his senior editors dutifully instructed before his office is swallowed up by Nine Entertainment. Or maybe he’s one of those really old journalists who’s hanging on to old-school ways because, sadly, he’s got nowhere else to go? (Okay, I looked it up. It’s the former).

The truth is that the journalism he’s talking about is probably dead.

I say “probably” because I’m not really sure when it happened. I just know that it did, and that no one really cared enough to mark the occasion; one of those depressing, lonely deaths.

For at least the last 18 years, revenue and advertising sales have been on decline at every media outlet. Forecasts and targets have been slowly dialled back. Head counts have been cut. Budgets shaved to the bone. Phrases such as “do more with less” and “lean and mean” became an ever-louder motto amongst media professionals who’ve taken resource shortages and wage-freezes as the norm.

For some media professionals I know, it’s all they’ve ever known.

Simply put, media companies have not figured out a sustainable model for making money, and it’s largely because there’s no demand for what they do.

What do I mean by that? Well just look at their audience: for them, the news is free. There will never be a willingness to pay for ‘real’ news as long as second-hand news is free. That is, the so-called ‘discussion leaders’ and ‘influencers’ offering their take and judgement on the world.

I’m not saying anything particularly radical here. In fact, I’d say news organisations already know this. That’s why most news these days seem to be structured to cater for special interest groups; it’s always about advocacy and consumption, telling you what you should think, how you should feel, and how you should spend your money.

I mean, just look at this headline from the state-run ABC the other day: “Anglican Church horrified over how redress scheme calculates payments to victims”.

A headline from the government-funded ABC

If you only read the headline and assumed the worst, you’d assume that the Anglican Church is trying to deny compensation to victims of abuse and, therefore, that the church is evil. If you read the actual article, however, it’s the complete opposite: the church is concerned that victims will not be receiving enough compensation.

Does this mean that ABC is waging a deliberate agenda against the Christian faith?

The editors at the ABC will swear until they’re blue in the face that they’re not; that the headline is a near direct quote of a comment from the church and is therefore factually accurate. But we all know that’s bullshit – and they know it, too.

They’re doing it for the clicks. They know how people react. They know how to encourage people to believe in the worst.

Four years ago, the executive producer of the ABC’s hard-hitting current affairs program, Q&A, told me she believes there is a hunger for real stories with hard-hitting details and considered discussion. With each passing year, I’ve come to think of her belief as more of a conceit; her own program cannot help but pit diametrically opposed beliefs against each other and it’s frankly tiresome to watch.

That brings me to this magazine, on which I’ve spent the last six months reimagining and redesigning. The audience is tiny. It’s not even available to the public. But the design, paper stock, varnish, photography, and production values are of such a quality that I can confidently say it is the best magazine I’ve ever had the privilege of publishing. I have brought old colleagues to tears just by telling them my budget. It is a bittersweet achievement because it would never have been possible while I was working in the mainstream media.

A sign of the times.

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